FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Arkansas football team spent the first half of Sunday’s session in a practice mode before getting into a 72-play scrimmage to wrap the two-hour workout inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Head coach Bobby Petrino said the coaching staff is continuing to add more to the playbook, offensively and defensively, and that the players are doing well to learn and adjust.
“We got a lot accomplished,” Petrino said. “We didn’t do everything right, but I do like the attitude of our players. I do like the effort and we will continue to work on toughness. I think before it’s over with, we’ll be a tough football team.”
Petrino said Michael Smith’s quickness caught his eye as the junior tailback rushed for a team-high 80 yards on 15 carries. Brandon Barnett also lined up in the backfield for Arkansas and racked up two scores and 45 yards on the ground. Petrino was pleased with how hard Barnett ran with the ball and wants him to be as effective in pass protection.
“We need Brandon,” Petrino said. “We’re going to need Brandon to be a player. I thought he ran physical. He has to keep coming along with what we’re asking him to do in the passing game with his protections. He has to make sure that he doesn’t get the quarterback hit and he did that a couple of times today, but I really liked the way he ran the ball and the physical (running) that he showed.”
The tailbacks were running behind an offensive line that also got the attention of the head coach who said the unit played well in the running game but still had room to grow in other areas.
“(The offensive line) is doing a nice job of run blocking,” Petrino said. “We have to continue to work and get better in our pass protection. There’s a lot of new technique that we’re teaching and a lot more reps at doing it, so that’s one area we feel like we can have a tremendous amount of improvement.”
At the quarterback position, all four signal callers who have received reps during practice saw action during the scrimmage. Casey Dick led the group with 104 passing yards on 13 completions. It was a good opportunity for Petrino to see how each quarterback would play and adjust to the various schemes run by the defensive unit.
“I thought Casey operated pretty well,” Petrino said. “We tried to throw some pressure at him and a lot of different looks at him. He handled them, for the most part, pretty well. He took care of the ball.
“(Alex) Mortensen came in, moved us down (the field) and got us a touchdown. He had some good plays in there for us. Ryan (Mallett), in his first series, executed pretty well. There’s a lot of newness to him, so in the second series, he wasn’t as effective. Nathan (Dick) did a pretty good job at the end.”
Twelve different receivers caught a pass Sunday. London Crawford and D.J. Williams each reeled in five receptions. Petrino thought Crawford did a nice job and was pleased with the way the junior receiver made plays and picked up first downs with his legs after the catch.
Defensively, Petrino said he saw improvement from the safeties and liked how the defensive ends were coming off the edge and working into the backfield. As the head coach, Petrino said he has to worry about one side of the ball when the other side is executing and moving.
Safety Matt Harris and linebacker Ryan Powers, respectively, totaled 10 and nine tackles during the scrimmage. Senior cornerback Jamar Love had the day’s only interception.
“I really think our defense did a nice job today as far as running to the ball and tackling,” Petrino said. “They showed a lot of improvement in our coverage aspects. A lot of what we’re asking the defense to do is really new to them, so they just have to gradually keep getting better. Our linebackers were a lot more physical today which was good to see.”
Sunday’s practice was the fourth consecutive day of workouts for the Razorbacks. It is part of the schedule Petrino said the coaching staff is monitoring to see how the players are responding and getting back into the routine of practice.
“One of the ideas is to see who can still come out here with a good attitude, concentrate and do what they’re coached to do when they’re tired,” Petrino said. “That’s a good thing about today and yesterday. The sun was out and we got a little bit more heat. They got tired at the end there and we’re really trying to see who could execute when they’re tired against the run and who could run block and run the ball at the end of the scrimmage.”
Chip Gregory, who moved from linebacker to the tailback position, sat out during Sunday’s scrimmage with an injured ankle. Petrino said he wanted to keep Gregory out after he tweaked his ankle Saturday during practice.
The Razorbacks will take a day off Monday before returning to the practice fields Tuesday. Log on to www.hogwired.com for updates of Arkansas’ spring practice schedule.